CPAP Machines Won’t Stop Stroke, Heart Attack in Sleep Apnea Patients, Study Says

If you suffer from sleep apnea, you’re likely tired of having to snooze with a CPAP mask – that continuous positive airway pressure machine designed to keep airways open overnight. New findings suggest, however, that this treatment might not actually be curbing severe complications.

The Sleep Apnea Cardiovascular Endpoints study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that patients receiving more than three years of CPAP care for obstructive sleep apnea, where airflow becomes blocked during sleep and breathing can stop intermittently, didn’t see any lowered cardiovascular risk – i.e. for strokes and heart attacks.

The study included 2,717 people across seven countries. The participants had moderate to severe sleep apnea and coronary artery or cerebrovascular disease. They were mostly older, overweight men who were consistent snorers. The patients were randomly designated to have “usual care” (like cardiovascular risk-management per national guidelines and advice on lifestyle and sleep-habit changes), or CPAP treatment.

After an average of 3.7 years, health outcomes weren’t any different between the groups. Seventeen percent of patients who received CPAP treatment and 15.4 percent with usual care endured a severe cardiovascular episode.

The researchers did, however, observe other health benefits of CPAP treatment. “While it is disappointing not to find a reduction in CV events with CPAP treatment, our results show that treatment of OSA in patients with CV disease is nevertheless worthwhile – they are much less sleepy and depressed, and their productivity and quality of life is enhanced,” study author Dr. Doug McEvoy said in a statement.

McEvoy said research should now focus on limiting the risk of cardiovascular episodes in patients with sleep apnea. Approximately 100 million people across the world have sleep apnea, with 80 percent going undiagnosed, according to Sleepdex, a website devoted to sleep-issue awareness.